Even Feng Sheng never anticipated that she wouldn’t catch illness in the cold winter, and would instead get sick when the weather grew warmer.
It was initially only a faint headache, but when night fell, it developed to a light fever. Sure enough, the next day, she felt completely unwell. Nonetheless, she insisted on getting up and copying two pages of Buddhist scriptures before lying down again. In the evening, her temperature rose and she could no longer rise.
Fortunately, the jailer in charge of delivering her meal arrived. She supported herself up and conversed with the other party. As it turned out, no one had called a doctor for her, nor provided her medicine. The jailer only furnished her with a pot of cold water and instructed her that, if her fever progressed to the point of unbearable, she should just drink the water.
Was this a new way to die?
However, Feng Sheng was not unnerved. Even if the Jianping Emperor wanted to kill her, he would not do it directly. Letting her die from illness was actually a good choice.
Now that she had figured it out, Feng Sheng no longer fretted about whether or not someone had asked for a doctor. She just lay in bed and awaited death.
Unfortunately, she overestimated her own endurance and underestimated her desire to live. The sensation of having such a burning fever was so insufferable that every time she felt like she could no longer bear it, she would involuntarily rouse and look for a pot of water.
Needless to say, the jailer was quite seasoned. He put a kettle right next to her bed. She would tilt her head, aim her mouth at the spout, hold the kettle with one hand, and drink from it.
As for the meal, she truly had no strength to get up and eat, and no one was there to feed her. Every day, someone would come to deliver her meal. If she didn’t eat, her previous meal would be taken away.
Occasionally, when Feng Sheng would look askance at the sumptuous food on the table, she would think that the other party was deliberately tormenting her. She sometimes felt that the other party was recklessly wasting the heavens’ good gifts, perfectly aware that she couldn’t eat it but still delivering every meal like this.
What she didn’t know was that the Court of Judicial Review had actually long ago ceased wanting to take care of her. The reason why they still delivered her meals was that the silver that the Wei Prince Manor allotted for keeping the stove burning longer to prepare her meals had not been used up.
This was an unwritten rule. One should note that those jailed at the Court of Judicial Review were all typically wealthy and noble people. For these masters, they couldn’t employ the method of starving by giving rancid food. Not only could they not do such a thing, but they should also, as much as possible, provide some convenience. After all, the river would flow thirty years to the East, thirty years to the West.1 These masters might not be able to overturn their circumstances in a day, but who would know? Even if that were the case, as long as these masters had friends, then they would try their best not to offend these masters over mere trifles.
Just when Feng Sheng was pondering by herself whether she should continue to court death or to shamelessly fall off her bed and break a leg in the process just to eat that meal, the cell door suddenly opened.
She saw a person.
This person hadn’t been here for quite a long time.
Seriously speaking, since she had entered this cell, she had only seen him twice, and each time, someone was next to her to ask questions.
She already felt that she was on the brink of death by this time. When she suddenly saw him, she suspected that she was dreaming.
But why was this dream so real that she could even feel his breath brush against her face as he picked her up? Soon, darkness shrouded her, and Feng Sheng thought to herself that she was indeed dead.
If she were dead, how could she still feel?
She felt the man embrace herself and walk out of that cell, similar to what he had done that day when they left the salt gang’s base.
When Feng Sheng woke up again, she was in a bright side room.
A face came into sight, but it quickly disappeared when she discovered she had awoken. After a while, several faces hove into her view, two of which were very familiar.
They were Zhi Chun and Zhi Qiu.
Zhi Qiu hugged Feng Sheng and wept, and Zhi Chun was beside her, repeatedly wiping tears from her eyes.
After crying for a while, Zhi Chun bid Zhi Qiu to stop crying and give Feng Sheng something to eat first, then have her drink medicine. Only then did Zhi Qiu respond, helping Feng Sheng up from the bed.
Leaning into Zhi Qiu’s arms, she drank a bowl of porridge and took the medicine. Feng Sheng learned of the general situation.
According to Zhi Qiu, she and Zhi Chun had followed Uncle Yu and the others to the capital. It wasn’t until later on that, ignorant of the arrangements Prince Wei and Uncle Yu had agreed on, Uncle Yu left the two of them at the Wei Prince Manor while he took Dao Qi and the others back to Yangzhou.
Feng Sheng still had businesses in Yangzhou. These were the private salt businesses she had established to compel the Jianping Emperor to reform the salt administration when she was still in Taizhou. Huaibei’s new policy now promoted official salt, but they never shut down their private salt business, as they served as a means for Uncle Yu, Dao Qi, and the others to support their families while subsidizing Feng Sheng’s expenses in passing.
The few years that Feng Sheng had been working as an official in Liang Huai, she had not earned a few taels of an official’s salary. Instead of getting paid, she had poured out an amount of over tens of thousands of silver for the reform. If not for the private salt business supporting her, she would have long been unable to make ends meet. Therefore, these businesses were absolutely vital.
As for Feng Sheng herself, she had been in a coma for more than ten days since her return. It wasn’t because she had been dragging her feet without treatment that her condition was so severe this time, but rather, constant overwork triggered her illnesses to erupt all at once. The years she spent in Liang Huai, in order to work out a strategy to reverse her father’s case, she drank wine like it was water and slept only a few hours every day. Exerting herself non-stop daily, she had long been an arrow at the end of its flight.
As stated by the doctor who treated her, she needed to earnestly take good care of her health, else she would have a short life.
A short life?
She thought she had died, not at all expecting Prince Wei to save her.
How did he save her?
This question was finally answered when Prince Wei appeared.
Prince Wei only appeared on the third day after she regained consciousness.
Feng Sheng had surmised that he would appear on the first or second day, but she hadn’t expected he wouldn’t come until the third day. She couldn’t help but wonder in her heart whether or not he regretted it.
After all, she understood the particulars of the situation. To save her, she was afraid he didn’t pay a small price.
As someone who had faced death several times, Feng Sheng no longer bothered hiding her curiosity. She asked the question straight to his face.
Prince Wei didn’t seem to want to hide anything from her and gave her a rough explanation of the matter.
After hearing it, Feng Sheng couldn’t tell what she felt deep inside.
She didn’t seem to be surprised, as if she had already deciphered this early on. Of course, emotions like guilt, warmth, and so on bubbled up. She walked this far and owed him too much, so the skin on her face had long thickened.
“I don’t think you’ve made a good deal. After losing so much and earning back a sickly person, you have lost a lot of capital,” she said with a simper.
Looking at the smile on her face, Prince Wei was a little annoyed in his heart.
This heartless one. He had racked his brains for schemes, exhausted all his mental power, and lost everything in exchange for such an insipid sentence. But hearing her say that, he was also a little happy. In short, his mood was so complicated that he could only pull a long face and appear listless.
“It’s nothing, really. This matter is too widespread, and those involved are restrained by fear. In this situation of uncertainty, it’s better to stay quiet and calm for a few years than to step out as a target.”
“They probably find it hard to imagine that, after pulling the Crown Prince down, their own good days are coming to an end. It may have occurred to them, but now they have no way out.” After a pause, she glanced at him, “So, Your Highness Prince Wei will have to thank me. With me as your way out, you can rest easy.”
Prince Wei was so irritated that he was seething. He wanted to scowl at her to express his displeasure, but studying her pale pallor, he couldn’t bring himself to.
On that day, his affairs had been concluded, so he went to pick her up. When he pushed the door in, he saw her lying there, soundless and motionless. Her face was all pallid, much worse than now, that it was so close to transparent as if about to disappear. At that time, his heart, firmly in this person’s clutches all the while, felt as though it was going to break open in an instant. Only then did he realize that the poison this woman instilled in himself penetrated so deeply that it was beyond cure.
“Just properly recuperate. Once you’re well, we’ll get married.”
“So fast? I still want to go back to Shaoxing. My father’s entry into the ancestral tomb is still unsettled.”
“You don’t need to worry about that. Your men will return to Shaoxing a few days after the case is finalized. Now, your task is to get well. I don’t want you to still look sickly on the day of our grand wedding, lest you fail to fulfill your duties as a princess consort.”
Feng Sheng didn’t expect Prince Wei to suddenly hurl a dirty joke at her. She watched him stand up and take off his clothes. Not knowing what he wanted to do, she was horrified, and her face lost a little color again.
“What are you doing?”
Prince Wei lifted the quilt and lay in it, wearing only his inner garments.
“What do you think I want to do? Sleep.” Saying that, he rubbed his big palms on her waist a few times. “Look at you, you’re so skinny. You only have bones left. What can I do?”
He said so, yet he pulled her into his arms and embraced her.
Prince Wei quickly fell asleep.
Feng Sheng waited for his breathing to steady before propping herself up to observe him. Noticing the hint of blue under his eyes, as if he had been deeply fatigued with not a day of good rest, a burst of sourness welled up in her heart.
She wanted to cry, feeling somewhat preposterous. It had been too long since she last cried that she had simply forgotten how tears flowed. She could only gently and carefully burrow into his embrace, listen to his heartbeat, and gradually enter the land of dreams.
Just like this?
It also seemed pretty good like this.
How many times do you think Feng Sheng had given Zhi Chun and Zhi Qiu a heart attack?
1 三十年河东三十年河西: lit. the river flows thirty years to the East, thirty years to the West (idiom); Prosperity and decline never last; change is constant, etc.